BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas
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Great Violinists Fritz Kreisler
Beethoven: Complete Violin Sonatas
The idea of presenting a complete cycle of Beethovens Violin Sonatas in the concert hall did not occur to violinists of the nineteenth century. Their recital programmes were arranged for the maximum of contrast and variety, with carefully chosen opening and closing pieces for each half, and would never include more than one sonata. If it was a Beethoven sonata, nine times out of ten it would be the Kreutzer. Early in the twentieth century some of the more serious artists began to rebel against this kind of programming. The pianist Artur Schnabel performed sonata cycles with such violinists as Carl Flesch and Bronislaw Huberman. The violinist Adolf Busch gave cycles first with his brother Fritz and then with his future son-in-law Rudolf Serkin; indeed, from 1929 the Busch/Serkin duo played all their sonata repertoire from memory. In the 1930s such fine duos as the Belgian pairing of Alfred Dubois and Marcel Maas, and the Polish/Hungarian combination of Szymon Goldberg and Lili Kraus, came to the fore. By then some excellent recordings of individual sonatas were available, including one of the little G major, Op. 30 No. 3, by the starry duo of Fritz Kreisler and Sergey Rachmaninov. The idea of getting Kreisler to record a complete cycle came from Fred Gaisberg, the American-born recording pioneer who invented the profession of record producer, and has not yet been equalled in the rôle. The London-based Gaisberg, who decided the recording policy of His Masters Voice and its affiliates worldwide, worshipped the ground Kreisler walked on and was always trying to get him into the studio. By 1934 HMV had hit on the idea of Society issues: for large-scale projects, subscriptions were sought and record buyers who were interested became members of a society formed specially for that particular project. The twelve-inch 78rpm records were supplied in handsome albums and Gaisberg calculated that four volumes would be required for the Beethoven Violin Sonatas. Finding a pianist would be a problem, as there was no question of hiring the expensive Rachmaninov, even if his schedule would allow for the necessary number of sessions. But Gaisberg was sure about his choice of violinist.
Friedrich Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna on 2nd February 1875, the son of Sigmund Freuds family physician, and could read music when he was three. His first violin lessons came from his Polish father Salomon, an enthusiastic amateur, and he went on to Jacques Auber, leader of the Ringtheater orchestra. In 1882 he became the youngest student admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where his violin tutor was the younger Josef Hellmesberger, and made his début at Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary) with the singer Carlotta Patti, sister of Adelina. At ten he won the Conservatory gold medal, was given a three-quarter-size Amati by friends and transferred to the Paris Conservatoire, studying the violin there with Joseph Massart, and composition with Léo Delibes. He met César Franck, played in the Pasdeloup Orchestra and in 1887 took a first prize in violin. In 1888/9 he toured America with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal. He spent two years in Vienna, broadening his education, thought of following his fathers profession and did two years medical training, followed by his military service. In 1896 he decided on music and, after being turned down for a job in the Court Opera Orchestra, began his career as a travelling virtuoso. He toured Russia, met Glazunov, found a wealthy sponsor and gradually advanced himself, getting to know Joachim, Wolf and Schoenberg as well as Brahms. In January 1898 he made his concerto début in Vienna with Bruchs Concerto in G minor, conducted by Hans Richter, and a year later he had an even greater success when he played Bruchs Concerto in D minor, Vieuxtempss Concerto in F sharp minor and Paganinis Non più mesta Variations for his début with the Berlin Philharmonic under Josef Rebicek. In November 1899 he was back in Berlin to play Mendelssohns Concerto in E minor under Arthur Nikisch. In 1900 he toured America and in 1902 he appeared in London, playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the first of Richters three concerts and Bruchs Concerto in G minor at the third. His marriage to Harriet Lies that year was crucial to his career, as she organized and motivated him from then on. In 1904 he was awarded the Philharmonic Society gold medal, in 1911 he gave the first performance of Elgars Violin Concerto and by World War I, in which he was conscripted, wounded in the leg and reported killed, he was famous. He moved to the United States, giving generously to help war orphans and refugees and playing charity concerts. When America entered the war, he was sidelined as an enemy alien; the enforced rest resulted in his operetta Apple Blossoms and his String Quartet. From 1924 Kreisler made his home in Berlin but with the rise of Hitler in 1933, he refused to play in Germany any more. His admission in 1935 that many baroque pieces in his repertoire were his own compositions caused a public rumpus, as the English critic Ernest Newman took umbrage. After the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, Kreisler took French citizenship, then moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1943. His career was more or less ended in 1941, when he was hit by a van while absent-mindedly crossing a New York street. He was in a coma for four weeks, and although he recovered and did not stop playing in public until after the 1949/50 season, he was never the same again. He died in New York on 29th January 1962.
Kreisler was a supremely natural player who could go a whole week without looking at his violin, then pick it up and fiddle as if he had been practising for hours. Part of his special quality stemmed from his hands. He had soft pads on his fingertips, which appeared to be unique, recalled the Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy. He developed the silvery vibrations of the Franco-Belgian players such as Ysaÿe and Massart into a warm, sensuous vibrato that he applied to every phrase, virtually overlapping it from note to note. This way of keeping the left hand alive was a revelation to his rivals and admirers alike, at the turn of the century. One admirer was Lionel Tertis, who adapted the Kreisler vibrato to the viola; Pablo Casals was already working on similar lines to create a new cello sound and so, within a decade or so, the entire approach to playing stringed instruments began to change. Another Kreisler speciality was extracting different colours from the violin, by playing particular notes in unusual positions an ability he used to create the most delicate effects in the many short pieces in his repertoire. In these delicious trifles, most of them written or arranged by himself, he demonstrated his natural command of tempo rubato, fine intonation his double stops were legendary and economical bowing. He kept the bow hair exceptionally tight (not even loosening it between performances) and varied the pressure: at one moment the bow seemed glued to the string, at another it moved with the deftness he had learnt in Paris.
It was Kreislers custom to work with an accompanist in recitals and he had no regular partner of his own stature, although he gave individual concerts with such fine pianists as Harold Bauer (on one occasion, having played the Kreutzer in concert, they exchanged instruments at the party afterwards and played it again, perhaps not quite so well). For the Beethoven project, Kreisler suggested a young pianist from Munich, Franz Rupp. Born in Schongau on 24th Feb